Calif. Farmer Fights Feds Because They Say Plowing Created ‘Mini Mountain Ranges’

(Brendan Clarey, Liberty Headlines) Over 70 members of Congress met this week with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to discuss that agency’s policies and regulations that many claim have hurt farmers, such as the much-disputed Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

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Scott Pruitt Photo by Gage Skidmore

The Congressional Western Caucus discussed with Pruitt the agency’s review of the WOTUS rule as required by executive orders signed by President Donald Trump earlier this year. The executive orders forced the EPA to revisit the legality of the WOTUS rule.

“I appreciate Administrator Pruitt taking the time to meet with us to discuss important issues that we must tackle in the upcoming months,” Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) said in a press release from the caucus. “I urged him to look into the Duarte case, in which a farmer in my district is being heavily penalized under the Clean Water Act because his furrows are characterized as ‘miniature mountain ranges.’ I look forward to working with Administrator Pruitt on policy reforms that will peel back unnecessary regulations and allow farmers to simply plow their fields.”

According to an article from E&E News, that case began in February 2013 when John Duarte decided to plant winter wheat in a field he had bought the year before. Duarte plowed the field, creating furrows, an action that was met with a cease-and-desist order from the Army Corps of Engineers, which enforces the Clean Water Act. The farmer and nursery owner faces a potential $2.8 million fine.

The Duartes were accused of disturbing seasonal wetlands known as “vernal pools,” which can support wildlife, and the Army Corps threatened penalties such as fines and possible imprisonment. Control over the Duartes’ wetlands stems from a broad understanding of the WOTUS rule by the Obama administration.

Pacific Legal Foundation is representing the Duartes in a lawsuit against the Army Corp which claims the family farmers have been denied their due process rights.

The Clean Water Act seeks to prevent the pollution of the nation’s water supply, but the Obama EPA released a new understanding of what is meant by “Waters of the United States” and what can be protected from pollutants. The 2015 legislation protects any tributaries or ditches as well as water features such as the Duartes’ vernal pools.

Many have accused the new water rules as too broad and harmful to farmers.

“The hallmark of the Obama Administration’s EPA was blatant misinformation, bold-faced lies and a hell-bent determination to drive our economy and jobs into the ground in order to curry favor with extremist special-interest groups,” Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) said on Tuesday in its press release. “Today’s meeting was a welcome breath of fresh air and I look forward to working with Administrator Pruitt on fact-based and commonsense policies that promote an all-of-the-above energy strategy, provide sensible protections, return to the Rule of Law, and foster economic prosperity.”

Late last month Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) addressed the expanded definition of “Waters of the United States” in a hearing for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

“The Obama EPA claimed that farmers did not to worry about the WOTUS rule because it exempted ‘ordinary farming activities from permits,’” she said in the hearing. “In [the Duarte] case, the court and the Department of Justice claimed that a farmer needed a permit to plow his own land because the top of the plowed furrows dry out in the sun and constitute – no joke folks – mini mountain ranges.”

But new EPA Administrator Pruitt sounds like he wants to change the way that the agency operates, and to give states control over their water.

“I look forward to working together with the Western Caucus on issues unique to western states and their constituencies,” Pruitt said in the release. “Locally elected officials and the citizens they represent are the best stewards of their own natural resources. They want to protect their environment and grow their economies, and EPA is going to help them do that by improving our partnership with states.”